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Archive for Sunday, September 12, 2004

87-year-old still serving up volleys after 60 years of playing badminton

September 12, 2004

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— Norman Krause calls badminton "the sport of ancients and royals."

At 87, he's been playing the game he also calls "the king of sports" for almost 60 years, usually four times a week.

"We get out here first of all for exercise," he explained before a recent Friday match. "Secondly, we come out for frivolity and fun."

Badminton is a tradition of sorts that has been in Hutchinson since at least the 1940s.

Krause became involved when exercising at the YMCA gym after he returned to Kansas from serving in the Navy during World War II.

"I was doing a workout routine of calisthenics on a mat at one end of the gym," he said. "There was a group of guys playing badminton at the other. They invited me to join, and I've been playing ever since."

The game that Krause and a group of about seven who join him in the gymnasium at First Presbyterian Church play isn't the backyard badminton most are familiar with.

Each game begins innocently enough. A player takes a plastic "bird," gently straightens its plastic feathers, and taps it over the net with a soft swish of the racket.

The gentleness stops there.

Norman Krause, in dark shirt, and other players share a friendly
game of competitive badminton at the First Presbyterian Church in
Hutchinson. Krause has been playing badminton since after
completing his service in the Navy in World War II.

Norman Krause, in dark shirt, and other players share a friendly game of competitive badminton at the First Presbyterian Church in Hutchinson. Krause has been playing badminton since after completing his service in the Navy in World War II.

Players volley the bird -- sometimes violently -- back and forth across a net raised somewhere between the height of a tennis net and one used for volleyball.

The bird whistles as it flies through the air, meeting a racket with a loud "thunk" before returning -- the player hopes -- over the net.

There are many shouts of "I got it!" or cries of disgust over a missed shot as a skinny, long-handled racket is tossed in the air before the next bird is served into play.

The game is closer to volleyball than tennis in terms of scoring, changing sides and rules, Krause said.

The group is fairly well-organized, with most of the informal club attending the noon games every week. A bank account funds a new set of birds for the group, purchased about every six months.

But the rules, at least in this town, have been altered slightly.

Most of the time, between two and six people attend the games. That means some matches are two on three or one on two.

A shuttlecock lies next to the court as six competitors play a game
of badminton at the First Presbyterian Church in Hutchinson.

A shuttlecock lies next to the court as six competitors play a game of badminton at the First Presbyterian Church in Hutchinson.

Generally, though, they play three on three.

"Hutchinson is probably the only place in the world where you will find badminton played three on three," Krause said. "Most people play doubles."

Although the ceiling in the gym is a fairly standard height for such a space, it's low for a badminton court.

"So if the bird hits the ceiling, we lose the point," Krause explained. "We had to change the rules just a little."

Over the years, dozens of badminton fans have met for the games.

The reasons they keep coming remain the same.

"It's good exercise," said Bill Boesch. "We just enjoy it."

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